DOVER — Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV, a former U.S. representative and governor of Delaware, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 86.
Mr. du Pont, the second-to-last Republican to be elected to the governorship, was vital in overhauling Delaware’s budgeting process and helping expand its economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As such, he is considered by many Delaware politicians and observers to be one of the state’s best governors.
Born in Wilmington in 1935, he graduated from Philips Exeter Academy, Princeton University and Harvard Law School. A descendant of E.I du Pont de Nemours, the founder of the DuPont Company, he was first elected to office in 1968, serving two years in the state House before being elected to Congress.
After winning reelection twice, he unseated Democratic Gov. Sherman Tribbitt with 57% of the vote in 1976. Four years later, he pulled in 71% to earn a second term as the First State’s chief executive.
As governor, he spearheaded eight consecutive balanced budgets, tax cuts and a constitutional amendment to stabilize and place more limits on the state budget. Mr. du Pont is credited with helping greatly expand the financial sector in the state by pushing the Financial Center Development Act through the General Assembly, eventually creating tens of thousands of jobs. He clashed with the legislature at times, leading to a showdown over the budget early in his first term, but is still remembered as a highly successful and influential leader.
As governor, he served as chairman of the Education Commission of the States, the Hudson Institute, the National Review Institute, and the National Center for Policy Analysis.
Mr. du Pont sought the Republican nomination for president in 1988 but dropped out after struggling to find support in the early state primary elections. He became a partner at the Wilmington law firm of Richards, Layton & Finger after his political career.
In 1978, he established the political action committee GOPAC in hopes of creating a base of promising Republican state office holders who could run for higher office, and in 2003, he created the Pete du Pont Individual Freedom Award, which is given to an individual who has championed an idea leading to economic growth or brought innovation to the private sector. In 2017, the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation was established to create jobs and opportunity in Delaware.
An accomplished sailor, he is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Elise Ravenel Wood, and their four children: Elise du Pont Zoller and her husband, Preston, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Pierre S. du Pont V and his wife, Jenny, of Ossining, New York; Benjamin Franklin du Pont and his wife, Laura, of Rockland; and Éleuthère I. du Pont (“Thère”) and his wife, Darla, of Wilmington, Delaware. He is also survived by 10 grandchildren and his sister, Michele Goss, of San Francisco.
Because of COVID-19, a memorial service will be held at a later date.
In a statement, Tom Carper, Delaware’s senior senator, mourned the passing of a man he described as a close mentor and friend.
“I first met Pete barely a year after coming to Delaware, and our relationship was an adversarial one in the political arena. I was working as a treasurer and fundraiser for the campaign running against him for Delaware’s U.S. House seat, and he won handily in the end,” he said.
“I always joked that his campaign made more money on interest than we raised! But I learned a lot from that campaign about Delaware, running for office and about Pete. I learned from Pete how to campaign, how to connect with people and the importance of surrounding yourself with the best people you can find.”
Despite being born into wealth, Mr. du Pont “had an ability to connect with people from all walks of life,” Sen. Carper said, calling the state “a better place today because of him.”
In lieu of flowers, the du Pont family asks donations be made to the Frontotemporal Disorders Unit at Mass General Hospital (Giving.MassGeneral.org/FTDUnit) and the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation (petedupontfreedomfoundation.org).